The Washington County Board of Commissioners received the Administrator’s recommendation for the county’s 2022 budget July 27.
In response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents and businesses, the County Board approved to a zero percent increase in the county’s 2021 tax levy.
With the ongoing response to and recovery from the pandemic, the recommended 2022 budget includes a levy increase that funds increased costs to the county expected in 2022, and those that occurred in 2021.
The County Board will conduct workshops on the recommended 2022 budget throughout August, and all are open to the public and webstreamed on the county’s website. The workshops provide the opportunity for each department to present its recommended budget to the County Board. After reviewing the recommended budgets, the County Board will set a proposed levy and adopt a proposed budget for 2022 Sept. 14; after the proposed levy is set, it may be reduced but not raised in the final budget, which will be approved Dec. 14. An evening public budget meeting will occur at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, in the Board Room of the Government Center is Stillwater.
The recommended budget is estimated to have a tax impact that is quite modest. The recommendation that the board is reviewing includes a 5.78 percent increase in the county’s levy, which would result in an increase for the county’s portion of the annual property tax of $29 for the average valued home in the county, which is $318,700. That same average valued home in 2021 experienced a $25 reduction in county tax when the board approved a zero percent levy increase.
The county continues to respond to the pandemic with services that meet clients’ needs. At the same time, much like other service providers, the county has found ways to deliver some county services in a more efficient, less costly way, which will continue in the future. This has included upgrades to county facilities that made them safer places to receive services and work.
New funding in the budget will pay for salaries and benefit increases for existing employees, as the county expects a rather substantial health insurance increase in the coming year, and base salaries of all county employees were held flat in 2021. The recommended budget includes only a small number of new employees and few changes in the services or programs delivered.
The recommended budget includes investments in the county’s technology infrastructure to maintain and enhance data and network security. The budget funds a fairly substantial increase in election costs for 2022 as more people vote absentee, which adds to the cost of managing an election. The budget also funds replacements in the public works fleet to ensure the ability to maintain and provide snow removal on county roads.
The recommended budget is impacted by reduced revenue in a variety of areas, including reduced county program aid, a state aid provided to reduce the reliance on property taxes to fund mandated services, and reduced fees for services that have been impacted by the pandemic.